They say a week is a long time in politics. In my experience, that it certainly the case, so last month’s column seems an age ago.
Sadly, since I last wrote, we’ve seen De La Rue, based on the Team Valley, make the decision not to pursue an appeal against the awarding of the new, blue passport contract to French- Dutch firm Gemalto.
There are still questions to be answered about how we ended up here; from the Government’s decision to allow an open procurement process for passports which are increasingly such an important part of our national security system to how this contract can be delivered securely and efficiently at such a reduced price. I’m going to be closely monitoring how this pans out and I will keep raising these issues with Ministers.
In the meantime, local De La Rue staff will continue to produce our passports over the next eighteen months and I will keep pushing for De La Rue to bring new work to Team Valley and ensure that we can keep these quality jobs here in the north east.
In the last week we’ve also seen Amber Rudd resign as Home Secretary in the light of the Windrush scandal – a resignation based on her misleading statements to Parliament about the existence of targets in the Home Office. There is cross-party agreement that the “Windrush Generation” – and their families who came to the UK to help us rebuild in the post-war era – are British citizens and deserve to be treated as such.
But the Government’s “hostile environment” policy has created an environment in which many of these people have been threatened with deportation or refused NHS treatment or benefits.
It is only right that all possible steps are taken urgently to right these wrongs. Amber Rudd’s resignation has also exposed Theresa May’s involvement in this whole situation. As Home Secretary from 2010 to 2016 it was on Theresa May’s watch that deportation targets were set and the “hostile environment” created which led to Windrush families being so shamefully treated.
It’s been a long time in Local Government too. Last week I spoke in the debate on Social Care, highlighting how inadequate the funds are to provide care for our most vulnerable people. As a member of the joint Health and Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committees, I have been participating in our enquiry into the long-term funding of social care ahead of the Government Green Paper which is expected later this year. We have taken evidence from care providers, the Care Quality Commission, local authorities and the NHS about the inadequacy of the current funding and what we need to do to put that right.
It was very clear to me that dedicated and high-quality staff are essential to provide care whether that’s in our own homes or in residential care and I really hope that the Government will recognise that in their green paper. Sadly, in the meantime, this Government continues to starve councils of the cash they need to provide decent social care let alone to cope with the growth in demand.
The measure of a good society is how well we treat our older people and others who need social care. At present we are letting too many of them down for lack of cash and no vision or coherent plan for the future.
Today many of you will be going to the polls to vote for the local councillors who will run your local services. Having served as a Labour councillor for six years in Gateshead, I know how hugely rewarding and hugely frustrating the job can be. Rewarding because you can speak up on behalf of your local community and its needs. But frustrating because this Tory Government and the Tory-Lib Dem coalition before it has made cut after cut after cut to local government funding.
I’ve already mentioned social care, but we’ve also seen cuts in funding for road repairs, our local environment, parks, housing, trading standards, environmental health and the rest and you and I can see the impact of those cuts in our communities. I hope you’ll use your vote to make the best that we can of our local communities.